Rusties

The Rusties are a technologically superior race of endothermic quadrupeds that refer to themselves as the First Breed. “Rusties” is a human nickname deriving from their skin and humans are advised not to use it in their presence.

Appearance

Rusties come in different shapes and sizes, like humans. The top of the head of the tallest Rustie would come up to an adult human’s chest and be about five feet long; the shortest, full grown adult would come up to a human’s waist.

Various facts become apparent about the appearance of a typical Rustie in the course of the novel:

  • They smell like cheap aftershave.
  • Each limb has three grasping digits at the end. On all fours, they are stumpy and you expect them to waddle, though they don’t; they walk very smoothly, and their heads stay constantly at one level. In microgravity, on the others hand, they are graceful and agile: their limbs can twist in almost any direction.
  • A Rustie’s head is wedge shaped and rises to a smooth dome, around which are spaced four nostrils. Humans who speak to them, biologically cued to making eye contact with the top-most orifices of the head, find themselves looking at these nostrils rather than the eyes. The eyes, below the nostrils, are large and bulbous and have almost 270 degrees of vision.
  • There is a grasping tentacle on either side of the mouth, and Rusties use these in the same way as humans use their hands: for feeding, for gesturing, for manipulating. The inside surface of the tentacle is ribbed and quite dry, like the belly of a snake. Graspers can extend in a blink to a couple of feet in length.
  • The skin appears to be covered by millions of disintegrating flakes of rust. Humans in their presence frequently have to fight the urge to pluck the flakes off, which as Gilmore correctly suspects, would be “a diplomatic no-no.” In hot weather, these flakes expand with blood to increase their surface area and help with cooling. In the cold, the flakes contract and form a windproof shell which traps a layer of warm air about the body.
  • Rusties don’t wear clothes: they have what look like loose fitting harnesses around their necks and over their bodies, which can denote status formally, or simply feel comfortable and look good (to other Rusties, at least). Designs can be as varied as human clothes. The harnesses also serve to hang things on.
  • Rustie throats cannot approximate human sounds: their speech sounds like something between a human gasping and clearing his throat. To communicate with humans they wear translator units around their necks, which pick up their speech (diplomats learn to subvocalise; non-diplomats can be heard talking) and translate into speech humans can understand in a bland monotone. Human speech is translated likewise and delivered straight to their cochleas.

Names

Rusties are a literal-minded species and this extends to their names: unpronounceable to humans, they simply translate them via their translator units. Hence what can appear a perfectly normal name to a Rustie can come out as “Arm Wild” or “Iron Run” or “Leaf Ruby” to a human. To abbreviate a name — for instance, to call Arm Wild just “Arm” — would be a gross insult.

That said, Rusties do themselves abbreviate their names: Arm Wild’s full name is Arm Wild Timbre Grey Wood Temple Southern Plains. That is to say, he is Arm Wild of Timbre Grey’s pride of Wood Temple’s lodge of the Southern Plains clan. See below for more of prides, lodges and clans.

Rusties get their names from their parents: in the novel we learn that two Rusties, Air Quiet and Wood Merry, are having a baby between them and the child will therefore be Air Merry.

Society

The Rustie system can be summed up as pride, lodge, clan, nation. “Pride” is the smallest First Breed collective noun.

A pride will consist of about 100 Rusties, give or take — numbers find their own level rather than being firmly legislated, and if a pride gets too big it will simply stop having babies (conversely, if it gets too small, it will start spitting them out). With the same rough give-or-take it can be said that a lodge consists of about 50 prides, a clan of about 20 lodges. Finally, there comes the nation, but no definitive figure can be given here: for various reasons, there is only one Rustie nation at the time of His Majesty’s Starship, but it is much smaller than the many that have existed previously in the Roving’s history.

Rusties communicate not just through words (mouthtalk) but through actions, gestures and even smells (bodytalk). They call this fulltalk. The reliance on all this subconscious cues means that a group of Rusties is very easy to control. Humans might think of them as a herd race but that would be inaccurate: a Rustie pride is a group of individual Rusties, each with its own wants and desires and tastes and characters, all agreeing. A human might think this is democratic, but again that would be a mistake. In democracy, the minority may give in to the majority but will still continue to harbour its private opinions and resentments. In a Rustie pride, the minority is absorbed but at the same time the majority also changes, with both sides meeting each other halfway.

The pride Senior, the “head” of the pride, is there for just as long as it can maintain this balancing act. Rusties can change leaders without the slightest rancour. Rusties have very different notions of seniority and rank to humans …

Biology

Rusties are hermaphrodites and have no pronoun other than “it” (humans tend to think of them as male because of the voice used by their translator units). It still takes two to have a baby — genetic material needs to be donated by two parties to produce a genetically individual youngster. This is about all that Rusties have in common in snails.

The need for a new member is felt by a pride, whereupon one of its number will initiate a foetus — which is to say, a clone of the initiator will start growing inside it. When the foetus has reached a certain stage of growth, it requires the genetic input of a different pride member, in an action which humans will recognise as having sex. After this, the foetus will grow to term as a genetically individual First Breed over a five month period. All Rusties are born with a limited ability to bodytalk and hence can understand their Naming Ceremony.

Witnessing the second half of the reproduction process is quite a ceremony in itself, and the whole pride will gather round to watch. An invitation to a non-pride member to watch is a sign of friendship.

Characters

Rusties that we meet, or hear of, in His Majesty’s Starship include:

  • Arm Wild, First Breed liaison to Ark Royal (HMSS) / Co-Senior of the Commonwealth (TXM)
  • Boon Round, engineer partnered with Joel Gilmore and assigned to SkySpy (TXM)
  • Iron Run, Senior of the First Breed Nation (HMSS)
  • Leaf Ruby, renowned reciter/orator (HMSS)
  • Place Brave, First Breed liaison to Shivaji (HMSS)
  • Spar Mild, mouthtalker for Iron Run (HMSS) / Arm Wild (TXM)
  • Verbatim Bald, senior First Breed on Earth (HMSS)